Feb. 9, 2022, 11:36 a.m. by Karuwaki Speaks ( 272 views)
Almost everybody knows about the disastrous Sino India war in 1962 which was an embarrassing dark blot in Indian military history.However,the thing that really fascinated me is that through this tragedy there was an amazing heroism displayed at the battle of Rezang la.Fought in subzero freezing conditions,the determination of the Indian soldiers to give their very best for their country is a shining example of valour & heroism.
My father used to tell me this story many a times and as a child I would listen with rapt attention.Daddy was a young IPS officer at that time & was involved in setting up the ARC in charbatia.Mr.B N Mullick,then Director Intelligence Bureau was incharge.BN Mullick, wrote in his book "The Chinese Betrayal" about a crucial meeting which was held at the Prime Minister’s Office in November,1961.
Present at this meeting, among others, were prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, defence minister V K Krishna Menon, army chief P N Thapar, foreign secretary M J Desai.The army's concern was that the Chinese had geographical advantage but Nehru believed the Chinese would not attack.The slogan "hindi chini bhai bhai" was deceptive & led to complacency.
Nehru decided that “Indian forces should remain in effective occupation of the whole frontier from NEFA to Ladakh... by setting up posts or by means of patrolling,” Mullick writes.This decision, India’s official war history records, “launched the Forward Policy” which was implemented without delay and had a “major effect in determining the deployment in Ladakh”.
In Ladakh, this directive meant that the Indian Army was to secure all possible approaches of ingress from Tibet towards Leh. China launched a full scale war in 1962.Chusul was 15 km from the border and strategically important.Rezeng La,which has an elevation of over 5,500 metres, guards the southern approaches to the Chushul Valley. Taking control of Rezang La would allow the Chinese to control leh.
The 13th battalion of the Kumaon Regiment was entrusted with the defence of Chushul. Its C Company, consisting of 117 men, commanded by a major Shaitan Singh, was responsible for holding Rezang .They expected a Chinese attack on the Rezang La, which came soon.
In the morning hours of 18 November 1962, the Chinese attacked and after few unsuccessful attacks from the front, the Chinese attacked from the rear."The vast area the company was tasked to defend, the lack of artillery support, the non-availability of MMGs, the unmined approach for the Chinese and less likelihood of reinforcement were hurting them badly," Kulpreet Yadav writes in his book"The battle at Rezang la".
When the Chinese forces launched their sixth round of attack the Indian soldiers of platoon 8 realised that they were running out of ammunition.Finally the soldiers jumped out of their trenches for a bayonet strike and charged at the enemy.The hills echoed with the war cry of the brave Ahir soldiers who jumped out of their trenches to take the chinese on in hand-to-hand combat.The bayonets could not inflict much damage as the chinese soldiers wore heavy parkas.
Yadav writes "The counter-attack by the Indians was so fierce that the Chinese stopped firing temporarily."Ill-equipped and out-numbered, two platoons of Charlie Company fought until their last rounds, before eventually being overrun & overpowered by the Chinese forces.
350 Chinese soldiers attacked in the first batch and 400 soldiers attacked for the second time but under the leadership of Major Shaitan Singh a befitting reply was given to the Chinese troops.He was wounded by bullets,yet he kept encouraging his men by going from post to post.The thing about a hero, is even when it doesn't look like there's a light at the end of the tunnel, he keeps trying.Sometimes you're called upon to make a split-second decision to do the right thing and that is a defining moment in your life.
Due to the tactical acumen and bold leadership of Major Shaitan Singh, the Indian Army killed more than 1000 Chinese soldiers on this front.For every man lost for us, the Chinese had lost four to five. “No one believed that 120 men had killed 1,300 men at Rezang La” recollected one of the surviving comrades,Ramchander Yadav .He said: "Yes, I saw some like (Naik) Singh Ram (Vir Chakra) catching hold of their heads and smashing them together. What he did to the Chinese earned him their respect. Before the Chinese left, they sank a bayonet in the ground near his head, and put a helmet on top. They gave him izzat, samman, they kept a note there. We have seen that note".
109 Indian soldiers out of 123 were killed in this war. Of the 14 who survived, 9 were seriously injured.Of the 120 men and officers of this Company,114 died,five were taken prisoners as wounded—they all escaped—and one was sent back to tell the story of the battle to the rest of the world by his fiesty major Shaitan Singh.
During the battle, Singh continuously moved from post to post reorganizing the defences and boosting the morale of his men. As he moved between the posts without any cover, he was seriously wounded.Realising that he would not survive, Major Shaitan Singh ordered the soldiers carrying him to leave him there and go to the battalion headquarters.
"I want you to leave me here and go to the battalion headquarters. Report to the CO how bravely our company fought. Go fast, save yourselves. The enemy can come here any time," he said, according to Yadav."Finally, after helping their company commander to rest against a boulder, the jawans reluctantly left. By now, Maj. Shaitan Singh had given his personal pistol to Sep. Mamchand of platoon 9 who was with them, to deposit it with the battalion quartermaster, so that it would not fall into the enemy’s hands," Yadav writes in his account.
The frozen bodies of Indian soldiers were first discovered by a sheperd who arrived at Rezang La in February 1963, nearly three months after the end of the fighting.The shepherd informed the Indian Army unit in Chushul. Soon, a search party was dispatched to Rezang La.The Indian Army found major Shaitan Singh's body at the same spot three months later.
His body was found resting against a boulder where his soldiers had left him. Many of the soldiers had died with their weapons in hand. No bunker in the area under Charlie Company was found intact. On the shield of one of the bunkers, the party found 759 bullet holes. One of the soldiers had been shot as many as 47 times.
Major-General Ian Cardozo,in his book Param Vir, Our Heroes in battle writes:"When Rezang La was later revisited, dead jawans were found in the trenches still holding on to their weapons... every single man of this company was found dead in his trench with several bullets or splinter wounds. The 2-inch mortar man died with a bomb still in his hand. The medical orderly had a syringe and bandage in his hands when the Chinese bullet hit him... Of the thousand mortar bombs with the defenders, all but seven had been fired and the rest were ready to be fired when the (mortar) section was overrun".
The Indian Army recovered the bodies of 96 soldiers of the Charlie Company from Rezang La."They were cremated with full military honours amid the chanting of Vedic mantras. Brig. T.N. Raina lit the combined funeral pyre of the soldiers with his own hand," writes Yadav in his book.Brigadier T.N.Raina later on became the chief of army in 1975.For his actions on 18 November 1962, Singh was awarded the Param Vir Chakra.
One Param Vir Chakra, eight Vir Chakras, four Sena Medals and one Mentioned-in-Dispatches were awarded to the soldiers. The Charlie Company, which was an all-Ahir company, remains one of the highest decorated companies of the Indian Army to this day.
Today, a memorial stands in honour of the soldiers of the Charlie Company company who died in the battle.The immense courage of Major Shaitan Singh and his men, who were equipped for the fight with little more than their indomitable spirit is best exemplified in the following words:"And how can man die better, than facing fearful odds, from the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of the gods."
The greatest heroes stand because it is right to do so, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives. Such selfless courage is a victory in itself.Out of sheer curiosity,I wanted to find out more about what happened to Major Shaitan Singh's family and when I googled I came across this unfortunate & callous news reported in TOI on August,2021:
Nearly 60 years after Major Shaitan Singh, Param Vir Chakra, was killed in action during the 1962 war, his family is yet to get their just dues despite a legal battle for many years.Advocate Colonel SB Singh (retired), who is fighting the case in Jaipur AFT for the family, told TOI: "The deceased Major’s wife did not realise that she was being given lesser dues than that has been authorised until an official of the Sainik Kalyan Board visited her. In 1996, she started receiving the liberalised pension. The current case is for arrears from 1972 to 1995 as well as the gratuity amount. After her death in 2015, her son Narpat Singh, who was a teenager at the time of his father's death,should have been given the arrears,But there is no judge in Jaipur AFT since 2016 due to which the case is pending.”
But the silver lining is that his grand daughters,Divya & Dimple Singh Bhatti serve in the Indian army.The life of soldiers is filled with sacrifices and stories of bravery and courage.From fighting enemies in the front lines at our border to rescuing citizens of the country from earthquakes, floods or conflict zones let us not forget their valour & sacrifice.
Gratitude is what makes us humane & our apathy and Indifference reduces the sacrifice & suffering of our bravehearts to an abstraction.People often end up using these stories of heroism as tokens of patriotism on social media & politicians keep revamping war memorials but the families of soldiers do not get their legitimate dues easily.
But as Allen West said: “We must never forget why we have and why we need our military. Our armed forces exist solely to ensure our nation is safe, so that each and every one of us can sleep soundly at night, knowing we have ‘guardians at the gate.’ ”